The use of complementary alternative therapy in the clinical setting has been a subject of increasing debate in the medical community, with a growing number of people seeking the use of alternative medicine such as acupuncture or massage as a treatment for various ailments.1 The use of music as a form of therapy is also becoming increasingly prevalent. Although a relatively new concept in today’s society, music therapy has been a well-documented practice throughout history, with the use of music for healing purposes dating back to the ancient Greeks. Mickey Hart from the rock band Grateful Dead once said, “Rhythm is there in the cycles of the seasons, in the migrationsof the birds and animals, in the fruiting and the withering of plants, and in the birth, maturation and death of ourselves.” Evidence has shown that the therapeutic use of music, particularly among those who are terminally ill, has tremendous benefits.

From a physiologic perspective, making music part of a palliative-care plan has resulted in recipients seeking fewer pain medications to alleviate their discomfort.2 Music has also been shown to improve mood, reduce fatigue and agitation, and increase spirituality among patients.3 Music therapy slows the respiratory rate while helping the person to feel more awake and alert2 and cope better with grief and feelings of hopelessness. In addition, this intervention enhances communication between patients and their families when addressing the difficult topic of death.1 In fact, family members of terminally ill patients have themselves exhibited improvement in mood and physiologic relaxation when music therapy is used.4

Many health-care professionals aren’t familiar with the benefits of music therapy, but educational programs designed to raise their awareness of the unique aspects of this treatment exist.3 Licensed music therapists also can help medical practitioners by meeting with the practitioner’s patients and helping these individuals choose the musical selections that will yield the most positive and meaningful experiences, given that each of us interprets music differently and will respond differently to a specific musical genre.5

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Music therapy has proven significant when used in a medical environment, greatly improving patients’ physiologic status and psychosocial well-being. Health-care professionals can help themselves, their patients, and their patients’ loved ones by incorporating music therapy into the care plan.


  1. Lewis CR, de Vedia A, Reuer B, et al. Integrating complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) into standard hospice and palliative care. Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2003;20:221-228.
  2. Freeman L, Caserta M, Lund D, et al. Music thanatology: prescriptive harp music as palliative care for the dying patient. Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2006;23:100-104.
  3. O’Kelly J, Koffman J. Multidisciplinary perspectives of music therapy in adult palliative care. Palliat Med. 2007;21:235-241.
  4. Hilliard, RE. The use of music therapy in meeting the multidimensional needs of hospice patients and families. JPalliat Care. 2001;17:161-166.
  5. Salmon, D. Music therapy as psychospiritual process in palliative care. J Palliat Care. 2001;17(3):142-146.

All electronic documents accessed August 15, 2010.

JungYung (Lisa) Ko, MSN, CRNP, AGNP-BC, is a nurse practitioner at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Philadelphia.